A disservice occurred in the Valdosta Board of Education District 9 At Large race.

A disservice to both the man who thought he was a candidate into the first week of early voting and the woman who officially qualified as a candidate.

Plenty of people including this newspaper have noted that the Lowndes County Board of Elections owes Nick “Big Nick” Harden answers.

Election officials told Harden he qualified as a write-in candidate for the school board. 

Based on this information from the Lowndes County Board of Elections, Harden spent thousands of dollars of his money and donors contributed funds to his campaign. 

However, as early voting was underway in early October, elections officials told Harden that he submitted his paper work past the deadline to qualify as a write-in candidate. What once seemed a vibrant candidacy came to a sudden halt.

It was unfair to Harden and his supporters. 

The election board, which is charged with knowing the rules for elections, should have told Harden at the time he submitted paperwork that he had submitted it too late to qualify as a write-in candidate.

Instead, he learned about a month later that his candidacy was disqualified.

Disqualification came following a series of emails sent by Brittney Coons-Long who qualified as a District 9 At-Large candidate during the official qualification period. 

In emails she sent to Deb Cox, Lowndes County election supervisor, Coons-Long questioned the timing of Harden’s application, noting it was submitted past the deadline for a write-in candidate.

Coons-Long shouldn’t have been placed in a position where she had to question the legitimacy of a political opponent’s candidacy.  

It was unfair to Coons-Long and her supporters.

In fact, Coons-Long was probably doing what any candidate would do in similar circumstances: Asking questions. 

All elections have sides. Every candidate has supporters. Usually one candidate has more supporters than the other candidates and that is reflected in votes.

And it is not unusual for one side to question or blame the other side.

But in this case, it isn’t so much one candidate or the other who is at fault.

Whether you support one side or the other, both Harden and Coons-Long experienced a disservice.

Mistakes happen. And it is not so much the mistake of approving Harden’s candidacy past the deadline but how the elections office handled the mistake. 

The mistake should have been caught sooner. A candidate should not have had to point it out. A person should not have believed he was a candidate for weeks and spent thousands of dollars before the mistake was caught.

Election officials should have taken responsibility for the mistake immediately then been transparent about how the mistake occurred and why it took so long to correct.

Questions about existing emails should have been answered openly and emails between Coons-Long and Cox requested by The Valdosta Daily Times should have been provided promptly. 

In an age when elections face not only skepticism but outright contempt, the Lowndes County elections office has further shaken the public trust in fair elections.

And that is a disservice to everyone, the candidates, the voters and the public at large.

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